Rex Bellotti Jr. with his parents – Liz and Rex Bellotti
Rex Bellotti Jr. – 15 years old at the time, was struck by a police vehicle on Lower King Road, Albany – it was shy of midnight as he was walking home from an Aboriginal Wake on March 6, 2009. Four years later his family are still waiting for answers and compensation – for help with his ongoing medical care.
The WA Police Commission is still to come to terms with a commitment to 100 per cent responsibility, offering through their insurers 70 per cent liability in regards to an insurance claim payout.
The incident left Rex Jr with a permanent disability after nearly having lost his leg that hung by an artery – he was dragged under the police vehicle after being struck.
He had been a former leading goal kicker with the Clontarf Football Academy team. This dream is now over.
The grievous wounds left him with limited use of his leg. More surgery is imminent and he still faces the threat of losing the leg to amputation.
Rex Jr. now lives in northern WA, Carnarvon, to get away from reminders of the incident and the depression he faced while in Perth. He has struggled to trust police and is still working on rebuilding his life. His partner gave birth to their first children only four weeks ago.
“I am still standing strong and tall,” said Rex Jr.
“I won’t lose the leg, I will never let this happen. I will prove all the doctors wrong.”
On Monday March 6 a rally will take place at WA State Parliament with the Bellotti Support Group coordinating. This rally will be supported by the Noongar Tent Embassy, the Swan Valley Nyungah Community, the Indigenous Social Justice Associations of Australia, the Human Rights Alliance and other advocacy groups.
The day will coincide with national action by the Indigenous Social Justice networks in Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne and Adelaide. They will provide a national feel to the four year wait for compensation for Rex Jr. by highlighting his case among several others to raise awareness of “police brutality.”
Indigenous Social Justice Association Sydney president Ray Jackson said that police brutality has to come to an end. He said police brutality cost the life of T.J.Hickey on the streets of Redfern and that the Kings Cross shootings once again highlighted excessive behaviours by police officers.
“They have to be kept accountable and what happened to Rex Jr. and the fact that he is still waiting for compensation clearly indicates that they are not being held accountable. We will raise awareness for Rex Jr. and all the others on March 6 with actions across the nation’s major cities,” said Mr Jackson.
I have written over 70,000 words on this young man and of the incident that wrecked many of his dreams.
I knew him from the suite of police reports, crash investigation file documents, third party witness statements, affidavits, the Corruption and Crimes Commission report and other information I immersed myself into.
Rex Bellotti Jr’s parents and siblings at an Albany rally
His family have protected him from the glare of public scrutiny and from the news media. They have stood alongside him during tempests of grief, during tortuous mental anguish and at all times they protected him from any prospect of public meltdowns. At all times they have put his welfare first.
Rex Jr. spoke publicly for the first time through me in an article published in The National Indigenous Times one year ago.
“I miss not being able to play football (AFL). I loved football and had hoped to go professional. I can still kick the ball with my right leg but I can’t with my left.”
“I am not allowed to run, if I do run it may cause harm to my left leg and if it starts to bleed the doctors say I have only one hour to get to hospital to save my life. I don’t run,” said Rex Jnr.
I asked Rex Jnr about the events on the night of the incident, after he had left a Wake to walk home along Old Lower King Road in his hometown of Albany.
“I remember what I was doing. I was having a smoke while walking along the road. There were three girls walking along with me. They were about 13 to 15 years old.”
“We began to cross the road, it was dark, and as we were walking towards the middle of the road all of a sudden out of nowhere I saw headlights coming at us. It was split second stuff.”
“They looked like high beams.”
“I pushed the girls out of the way. They would have been hit for sure. I did the right thing in saving them. I didn’t make it out of the way..”
“The car came fast.”
“I remember all that well enough.”
I asked Rex Jnr what he remembered after being hit by the police-four-wheel drive.
“I don’t remember much, I think I was conscious for about ten seconds, I went in and out and then out altogether.”
He doesn’t remember being taken to Albany Hospital nor does he remember being flown by the Royal Flying Doctor to Perth.
He woke up at Royal Perth Hospital.
“The scariest part for me wasn’t the hospital, it was the rehabilitation. It was the toughest time of my life trying to get my leg working again.”
“When the police car hit me they snapped both my legs but my left leg is the worry now.
The police car snapped my right leg at the femur and my left leg hung together by an artery. They say if it gets hurt again then there’s the prospect of an amputation.”
I asked Rex Jnr how he felt about the police officers who did this to him and how he felt about police in general.
“I don’t trust them,” he said. “I understand that they didn’t help me while I was lying there. They never came to the hospital to see if I was alright. They have never taken the time in more than three years to check on me or contact me. I don’t know what they look like, they have never given me a minute’s worth. They have never admitted the full extent of what they did to me that night. How can I trust police when they’re like this?”
A week before the interview Rex Jnr and some friends were spoken to by a couple of local police officers. The officers asked questions about ‘a person of interest’ they were looking for. Rex Jnr told one officer of the incident that mangled his legs.
“He was shocked when I showed him my leg. He said, ‘Did we do that?’”
I asked Rex Jnr what he thought of that particular police officer.
“He seemed to be quite a good person despite being a cop. He didn’t pack on anything like other smart arse cops looking to get us in trouble. There was none of the usual smart arse comments and smirks.”
Rex Jr. began to rub his leg and I asked him if he was alright. “Yeah, I’m alright, it’s just the pins, the screws and rods in my leg – on a cold day like today I feel them more than usual,” he said.
More than a year ago Rex Jr. spent a summer with relatives in West Australia’s north-west, to try and move on from his grief. In Carnarvon, he met Erica Atherton, 17, and they have been together ever since. Rex Jnr and Erica are inseparable.
“I like everything about Rex, he’s a good person. What the police did to him, and then not admit it, that’s just wrong. What happened to Rex, that was wrong, just wrong,” said Erica.
Rex Jr. remains close with his family.
“My family is pretty home bound, so I go from time to time to visit them. I am close with all my brothers and my sister.”
I asked him about the future.
“I have to wait. It’s been more than three years and I haven’t received the insurance and compensation. That’s wrong but I’ll wait. Then I’ll buy a house with the money. I don’t know how long they are going to take but hopefully not as much time as has passed since what they did to me.”
“They took away my football, and I didn’t finish high school because of them. They need to let us get on with our lives.”
“I don’t expect justice, I don’t expect the cops to get honest but I am glad that many people have learned the truth – that you have been writing about what happened to me so cops think twice next time it happens.”
“I am glad that my people throughout Australia know the truth and that every corner of Australia has at least heard of what the police did to me. I can’t forgive them but I won’t let them mess me up and get me down.”